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Legalize Black Hair: On Banning Race-Based Hair Discrimination
Aug.06,2020By Ashley Northover
Going back to natural hair was a return to my truth. Growing up as a black woman before the natural hair wave came about, having your hair relaxed or straightened was considered the norm to fit in. Back then, if your hair was in its natural state, you were one of the few and far in between. Many black women knew that relaxing hair often was not healthy for it, and because of the chemical treatment, hair would not grow past shoulder length. Women routinely subjected themselves to scalp burns from the relaxer, and the relaxer had damaging effects on their hair and health. Then in 2008, the natural hair movement became increasingly mainstream. So many of us said goodbye to relaxed hair and embraced our fros. And we could all relate to Rihanna when she said, “When I cut my hair, the whole sound changed, my style changed.” As natural hair become increasingly mainstream, so did the surrounding movement to protect it.
In 2019, Dove did a study for their Crown (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Coalition Campaign to end discrimination against black women’s hair. The results of the study found that 80% of female participants were more likely to change their natural hair to meet societal or work norms. The reason? To keep their jobs. The study also found that black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home, or know of a black woman sent home from the workplace because of her hair. This discrimination doesn’t end at the office: black students are routinely targeted and discriminated against for the state of their hair. Asia Simo was kicked off her high school cheerleading team because her hair could not go into a “half up half down style” like her teammates with straight hair. High school wrestler Andre Johnson had to cut his dreadlocks at his match or forfeit. The US does not currently have a federal law banning discrimination against black hair, however, there are several states that ban this form of discrimination.
80% of female participants were more likely to change their natural hair to meet societal or work norms. The reason? To keep their jobs.
CALIFORNIA: California became the first state to ban discrimination against black hairstyles in 2019 with the Crown Act. The ban is against the discrimination of black individuals whether students or employees from accessing equal opportunities due to the natural hairstyle that they choose to wear whether braids, fro, dreadlocks, etc. Many of us have experienced being made fun of in school because of our hair. Or, relaxing or straightening our hair to get the job or to be accepted by society. The law was signed by the Governor as women with kinky, coily, and curly hair are subject to harsh treatments due to the state of their hair.
Other states that have passed The Crown Act: New Jersey, Colorado
NEW YORK: New York was the first city and the second state to pass a law that forbids the discrimination against hair. Officials at the NYC commission says the law although applied to everyone will predominately protect black people. These individuals have been discriminated at school, work, in the supermarket, or dating based on the texture of their hair. The NYC First Lady, Chrilane McCray, said: “Bias against the curly textured hair of people of African Descent is as old as this country and a form of race-based discrimination”.
Other states that have passed a similar law to NY: Virginia, Washington
CINCINNATI, OH: Although the state hasn’t enforced the legislation for discrimination, the city has. Chris Seelbach, the Councilman, stated after the 7 to 1 vote that it is “an important path toward levelling the playing field in the community”. According to AP News (October 9, 2019), the lone no vote comes from Amy Murray (Councilwoman) who believes that there is no need to pass the law in the city because of the redundancy since there are protections for black hair under the federal race discrimination law. However, based on the results of the vote everyone thought that more or additional protection is needed.
Among the states and cities mentioned above, others have proposed legislation for the discrimination against black hair, either in adopting The Crown Act or similar legislation:
Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Although the ban is not in all 50 states as yet, it's an indication that we’re heading in the right direction. Hair just might be a harbinger for long overdue change. The law will help to normalize black hair, and opportunities will not be stripped from people because of the texture of their hair or the style they choose. This normalization helps to break down one of the more visible branches of the tree that’s keeps racism alive and growing. This normalization opens up even more opportunity for acceptance: wider shade ranges of makeup, more and better movie roles, more products designed for specific needs, more size options for more body types, more opportunities in the STEM and other areas of academia.
Hair discrimination is just one symbol of the much bigger issue at hand. No one should feel unsafe in a country that they were born in. Stand up to injustice. March with your protest signs highlighting the inequities faced by you, your friends, family members, or loved ones. Let everyone know that black lives do matter. Bob Marley said the Haile Selassie I quote perfectly in his song, War: "Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, everywhere is war."